It never used to bother me when emails came rolling in after hours. For one thing, it comes with the job when you work in media; they mean it when they say the news cycle never ends. Plus, living in California, I'm used to getting alerts from coworkers a few time zones ahead. The rest of my team works on East Coast time, and sometimes I'd scroll through their early-morning Slack messages on my commute, chiming in with ideas while I booted up for the day.
Flash forward a few months and I don't even have a commute anymore. Now when I get an email at 7 a.m. or on a Saturday afternoon, there's really nothing to stop me from pulling out my laptop and hopping online. And even if the computer stays closed, it's like the notification is still buzzing in the back of my mind, needing to be dealt with.
It doesn't help that after five months of working from home, my work-life balance is completely shot. I've been pushing back the end of the workday later and later (so easy to do when you're at home all day), and it leaves me exhausted and strung out at night. The next morning, the anxiety starts before I'm even out of bed, when I turn off my alarm and the first thing I see are those emails and Slack notifications. Then I look up at my desk, where I'll be sitting for the next 8 hours, and my computer, waiting to suck me in. I'm learning that when you work where you sleep, eat, exercise, and relax, it feels like your whole life is one endless Monday morning with no weekends in sight.
Finally, when the anxiety started bleeding into weekends and PTO days, I decided something had to change. This was unsustainable; I couldn't be stressed every waking hour. And I realized there was one easy at least partial solution, which involved just a few taps on my phone.
I'm learning that when you work where you sleep, eat, exercise, and relax, it feels like your whole life is one endless Monday morning with no weekends in sight.
I pulled up my notification settings and, starting with Slack, began turning them off one by one. Facebook? Gone. Twitter? Nope. Email? I hesitated, then pressed the button. I felt a little lighter with each tap. Any notification that caused a bubble of stress in my throat got powered off, from work to social media. The only apps I let ping me were the barest essentials, like texting and phone calls, or the ones that were pure fun, like YouTube and ESPN. And just like that, my phone went quiet.
In the two weeks since, something unexpected has happened. Before, I barely noticed my habit of toting my phone from room to room, and its constant presence made it easy to constantly glance down, catch a notification, and get sucked into an email or social media hole. But now that it wasn't buzzing me all the time, there was no reason for me to have it an inch from my hand all day. Now I'll go hours without looking at my phone, sometimes leaving it in a different room or on silent all day. In breaking up with my most stressful notifications, I've also gotten less dependent on my phone in general.
Yes, there are still days when I'll need to check my email or messages after dinner, but I try to be aware ahead of time so I can plan and check in at certain times, instead of constantly glancing down for notifications. Sure, it's led to some missed or late emails, and I really have to be on top of my calendar (I logged on yesterday to find I was already late for a meeting . . . oops), but it's worth it because of what happens when I finally do power down for the night. I shut my laptop with the knowledge that I'm not accessible unless I choose to be, which means for the next few hours, my time is my own, with no phone reminding me of my 9-to-5 responsibilities.
These days I spend a lot of time freaked out about having zero control over anything, which made this little exercise of power feel really, really good — especially when it leads to less time on my phone or thinking about work. And while turning off my notifications hasn't made me totally stress- or anxiety-free, it does feel like setting up these simple boundaries has helped me take back a little more control over my time, energy, and life.